The first part of the latest round-up of Staff Picks features an eclectic mix of recommendations from Electronica to NZ, to Box-set reissues, and Indie. Keep an eye out for part two coming soon!
Christchurch based guitarist Roy Montgomery’s first band were the Pin Group whose 7” single ‘Ambivalence’ was the very first Flying Nun release back in 1981. Almost 40 years later Roy Montgomery continues to push the edges and his latest release finds him creating six deeply layered shimmering soundscapes, each featuring a different guest female vocalist including Liz Harris, aka Grouper, and Julianna Barwick. These beautifully produced ambient experimental drones are deeply hypnotic and are given an added edge by the vocal component that humanizes the sounds without detracting from their transcendental properties. Overall a very successful project that, in a perfect world, would find cult guitar legend Roy Montgomery a wider audience. (John)
DJ-kicks : DJ Seinfeld.
It’s a sure sign that a new electronic sub-genre has been validated when a leading DJ of the style is asked to submit a mix to the long running DJ Kicks series. Number 64 in the series is from Swedish producer, Armand Jakobsson, aka, DJ Seinfeld, a leading light in the fresh Lo-Fi House sub-genre. Confusingly, Lo-Fi House appears to be an attitude rather than an actual sound – predicated on a deliberately rough around the edges production style and a can-do, outsider attitude. Here we have a cool selection of contemporary electronica, light and groovy, that moves very smoothly through deep house, breakbeats, electro, downbeat and more with, interestingly, eight of the 21 tracks coming from Melbourne producers. (John)
Loving the alien [1983-1988].
There has been a few great David Bowie releases in 2018 including Welcome to the Blackout (live London 78) and December saw the first DVD release of his seminal Glastonbury performance from 2000, often cited as the greatest Glastonbury headline performance ever. There is also the continuation of the fabulous box set releases of his back catalogue, this one entitled Loving the alien (1983-1988), an eleven disc outing that covers his most commercial period. In late 60s Kenneth Pitt, one of Bowies early managers, tried to turn David Bowie into an all-round mass market entertainer and in the 80’s under his own steam that’s exactly what he became. And I guess that’s the only way you can view these releases. They just don’t inhabit the same worlds as his 70’s output- these albums are more Chic, or Michael Jackson, than Ziggy Stardust. However if you listen to them with your 80’s disco ears on there is a lot to be enjoyed! The remastered version of Lets Dance has many pleasures. The Loving the Alien album has one or two fine tracks but the most interesting aspect of this release is the new version of Never Let Me Down. This 2018 version has been totally reworked with many of the classic 80’s elements removed and replaced with completely new elements. This new version is certainly a vast improvement on the original release and free of the 80s bombastic production; it gains a new life with songs being given the space to breathe and so becomes subtle and complex in tone. (Neil J)
All that reckoning.
It was 1986 that the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies played a key part in creating the template for alt-country with their classic Lo-Fi album The Trinity Session. Exactly 30 years on, it’s great to hear, on their first record in six years, that these musos in their 50’s are still creating their beautiful, fiery, fragile sound world. This collection of dark, existentialist songs that deal with political, social and personal situations are beautifully delivered by vocalist Margo Timmins, accompanied by her brothers on guitar and drums, with bass player, Alan Anton. The often delicate songs are frequently shot through with discordant noise and a blurry psychedelic edge, sometimes subtle, other times harsh, to create atmospheres haunting, tender and tense. (John)
Body / The Necks.
Back to the Chris Cutler (Henry Cow/Art Bears)’s ReR label, the world famous Australian cult trio, The Necks’ 20th album finds them a superb form. Once again, it’s a 60 minutes-long improvisation affair, opening and closing with the beautifully executed piano-led ambient sound. However, the chunk of middle part is a frantic electric guitar riff like a storm. This definitely comes as a shock for many but probably not so surprising, if you remember that they have been one of the most forward-thinking, push-the-boundary bands. It’s been almost three decades since they started performing together but they still have fresh ideas and keep evolving. This is one of their bests and confirms again that they are truly original. Phenomenal. (Shinji)
Originally released in 2001, Loop Finding Jazz Records was groundbreaking in the, then, new domain of minimal electronica, featuring subtle use of micro samples and flickering glitch generated rhythms to create music that was oddly mesmerizing. This record has become a cult favorite and has aged surprisingly well, the languorous textures and sub-sonic bass creating a timeless sound world, somewhere between ambient and sub-aquatic minimal house. Despite being created with micro-samples taken from jazz records, this album bears no resemblance to that genre, presenting more a strange and dreamlike soundtrack for an imaginary, removed and flawless post-human existence, perfect for home listening. (John)
Its hard to credit that Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds started out as drummer for a hardcore band, as this collection of incredibly delicate and achingly beautiful pieces for piano, cello, orchestra and electronics are about as far from hardcore drumming as can be imagined. Recognized as one of the leading figures in the modern classical genre, Arnalds here applies subtle electronic algorithms to his compositions via the use of software he developed that generates alternate notes on two other pianos from the notes he is playing. The results are gorgeous harmonics that add complexity to the deceptively simple and beautifully restrained compositions which straddle modern classical, ambient and electronica. (John)
A deeply sensitive and resonant album, Blood Orange delivers beautiful production and emotive vocal performances. Pitchfork reviewer Jason King put it best when he described the album as capturing “the scattershot, jittery, anxious, blissed-out-depressive feeling of what it’s like to be a marginalized person at a toxic and retrograde moment in global culture and politics.” Recommended tracks are ‘Orlando’ and ‘Charcoal Baby’. (Joe)
Searching for the spark.
Special mention must go to the Steve Hillage Box Set – if only for its sheer magnitude – so make sure you are feeling fit if you decide to access this item, as just carrying the weighty box home presents a challenge. Contained within are 22 CDs and four books which encapsulate the UK psych-rock guitarist’s entire career. While not exactly a household name, Steve Hillage is probably most famous for his role as guitarist on Gong’s cult Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, after which he went on to a solo career – as documented in this box set. Of particular interest are the recordings of and writings about the early Canterbury scene, which he was a formative part of as guitarist for the bands Uriel and Khan. Also included is the first System 7 album, his, still current, techno based project, featuring guest artists such as Derek May, Alex Paterson and Paul Oakenfold. (John)
German electronic producer Wolfgang Voigt has been running his Gas project since 1996 and his music has taken a darker turn for this, his sixth release. His compositions feature processed orchestral samples densely layered, frequently over a deeply submerged 4/4 rhythm, that evoke, if anything, a warm, timeless cocoon. Here, however, the atmosphere has become foreboding with dissonance and anxiety entering into a world that once seemed welcoming. ‘Rausch’ translates as an ecstatic state or fever dream, and this music, which contains bright and beautiful moments emerging from an often imposing and dense gloom, while not for the faint-hearted, offers a rewarding deep listening experience. (John)
Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we? : 25th anniversary edition.
With Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive voice, The Cranberries were one of those bands you either loved or hated, but there was no denying the success and pervasiveness of their first 2 albums in the early 90s. Last year the band came together to plan a 25th Anniversary Box Set release of their debut album, and following O’Riordan’s untimely death in January, the remaining band members have decided to go ahead with the 25th Anniversary Box Set as a tribute to her. As well as the original album, it includes a plethora of recordings from that era spread across 3 discs, including some rare tracks sourced from their early cassette releases as ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’. It also includes a 52-page hardback book that details the creation of the record and the history of the bands ‘rags to riches’ journey, which is itself a fascinating look back at a Music Industry that doesn’t exist anymore. A fitting tribute to one of the most iconic voices of popular music. (Mark)
The loneliest girl.
Difficult to pin down, AK pop chanteuse Chelsea Nikkel confounds with her fourth album, which extends her previous synth-pop arrangements into a wide array of new areas, with each of the 12 tracks pretty much inhabiting a different pop arena. Produced by alt-pop maestro Jonathon Bree, this is pop, but pop with a distinctly Lynchian feel, as within the sweet vocals and pink ribbons beats a dark heart delivering these thoughtfully produced bitter sweet songs. It all hangs together remarkably well, and beneath the la-la-las there lurks a deceptively subversive baroque take on the pop format that is entertaining from start to finish. (John)
Strictly rhythm : underground ’90-’97.
The latest edition in Cherry Red’s expertly curated re-issue series features a three disc collection of standout tracks from NY based Strictly Rhythm, the label that played a vital role in creating the dance genre known as House. Home to artists such as Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, Louie Vega and Armand Van Helden, Strictly Rhythm was the leading US house music label throughout the ‘90’s. This retrospective is almost a history of NY underground house music itself, with the biggest hits deliberately overlooked in favor of club classics, hidden treasures and tracks never before released on CD. With all tracks fully restored and remastered this is a great peek into the roots of contemporary dance music. (John)
Anthem of the sun.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s second album. Their spacey, sun-tanned San Francisco rock is on form for these groovy and psychedelic tunes. The album is grounded in folk-rock and blues, but takes cues from free-jazz. Keith Richards once said of the Grateful Dead that they were “just poodling about for hours and hours. Jerry Garcia, boring s—, man. Sorry, Jerry.” But on this album, the Dead are tighter than ever. Standout songs include New Potato Caboose and That’s it for the Other One. The anniversary edition includes the 1968 version and 1971 remix of the original album and previously unreleased live recordings. (Joe)
The nature of imitation.
The new album by Oliver Johnson, AKA Dorian Concept, is on Brainfeeder, the LA experimental hip-hop label, which makes sense for a musician who played keyboards in Flying Lotus’s touring band and worked on Cosmogramma… and the experience shows. This is music “meant to play on our short attention spans” and the live instrumentation inspired by jazz, fusion, prog and funk and subject to an intense process of digital editing, creates surprisingly listenable stuttered, chopped up shapeshifting music comparable to other Brainfeeder artists such as Flying Lotus and Thundercat with a solid nod to Squarepusher. With the fleeting appearance of soulful vocals and untreated piano to mellow things out, this is an intriguing musical ride. (John)
The appearance of cryptic 3D posters on the walls of the London Underground network bearing the Aphex Twin logo was a sure sign that something was brewing and when the video for a new track called Collapse was banned, as it failed the test for TV image sequences that would provoke photosensitive epilepsy, it became clear that Richard James aka Aphex Twin was in the area once again. This five track ep is the latest in a series of EPs that have followed Aphex Twin’s triumphant 2014 return with the album Syro and is his most familiar so far, bearing all of the hallmarks of classic Aphex Twin electronica – frantic stuttered beats, rubbery bass lines, beautiful submerged melodies, evocative vocal samples and complex shifting arrangements. (John)